Continuous Sour Pickles

Vegetable Fermentation

In my backyard at home I have four pickling cucumber plants that are giving round about 6-12 cucumbers a day or so right now. Those 6 or so picked nice and small fit perfectly in a pint jar and make it easy to do sour pickles one jar at a time as the cucumbers roll in. Since there’s the summer heat to contend with and I want a crisp pickle we’ll let the fermenting just get started at room temperature then turn to the refrigerator for a long slow souring process. Additionally, I do not like to cut them open as the seed pod and inner flesh risks getting mushy.

Process

Pack as many little cucumbers into your jar as you can manage.

Add a clove of garlic and a handful of fresh herbs like dill and cilantro to each jar. Add as much salt as is your preference. For a moderately salty pickle add 2-3 TBS of salt per a quart. That will hit about the 3.6- 5.2% salinity which is pretty tasty.

Cover everything with water and fasten the lid securely.

Leave it out on counter for 3 days, or until you notice some vigorous bubbling activity. If you’re using a lid with a pop top, I like to use that as an indicator. When the lid is bulging it’s ready for the fridge, where you can move it to the back and forget about it until some time later in the winter.

Enjoy!

Fermented French Fries (& Potato Chips)

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

In a makeshift urban root cellar such as we have, the turning of the weather is felt in more places than the breaking of tree buds. While a fermented french fry recipe featured above seems lighthearted and fun, it serves a practical purpose as the tail-end of our stored potatoes also experience an early Spring “bud-breaking” (or spud-breaking?). It works two-fold as what needs eaten needs done with a little more pep, while those potatoes put aside for seed are getting a little pre-sprouting before going in the ground soon enough. The light fermentation adds a more dynamic lacto-pickley flavor to your fries that goes great with traditional condiments, making them worth a try.

Leaving the skin on, cut up the potatoes into your preferred fry shape.

Normally fries get an overnight soak in cold salt water to wash off excess starches. In this case we’ll do the soak as usual, but at room temperature and for a couple more days.

In your fermentation vessel cover the fries with water and add enough salt that the brine has a pleasant lightly salted taste. There’s no wrong answer with salt, except the potatoes will be taking on salt during the ferment, so too much can result in over-salty fries. A light brine enables you to still add salt after frying without overdoing it.

Ferment the fries for a couple days depending on ambient temperature and your preference. We do 4 days in 70 degrees. The potatoes get a nice pungent odor. The final taste is much more restrained than the smell describes so if you’re a lover of the funk, you could keep going. Strain and rinse before you’re ready to fry.

Heat your favorite frying oil- whether that be canola or tallow or other, to 250 degrees and par-fry the potatoes for 7:30 minutes. Work in batches if space in your frying vessel is limited.

Par-fried fries can be held in the fridge to finish for a week or so. When you’re ready for french fries, heat your oil once again but this time heating it to 375 degrees. Cook your fries to your preference, likely somewhere between 2-3 minutes. Strain excess oil and toss with a pinch of salt.

For potato chips follow the same process with these changes/ tips:

Cut whole potatoes on a mandolin- our cabbage mandolin for sauerkraut does the job here. Whether they are thin or thick is up to you.

Ferment the same as with the fries above.

There is no par-frying needed with potato chips. Fry them once in oil at 375 degrees for ~5min or so. The color should be your indicator here. Make sure to move the chips around periodically because they rise to the top and can get some uneven frying. Under-fried parts will be chewy rather than crispy.

Strain and toss in salt, or maybe your favorite spice blend.

Homemade Black Garlic

Vegetable Fermentation

Black Garlic is a product of the Maillard Reaction (when sugars and amino acids are exposed to sustained high heat) and is an exciting addition to year’s pantry. The process is very simple. The garlic is wrapped to retain its moisture then held at 135- 170 degrees F for 30-60 days. The long slow heat gives it a distinct black color and deep flavor, while concentrating the sugars.

Process

Wrap the garlic.

There are a couple ways to do this. The above picture shows a vacuum sealer but it also works just as well to wrap the garlic in a couple layers of plastic wrap, or to pop it into a jar or tupperware container. The goal is that it doesn’t lose its moisture while on the extended warm journey.

While not usually a huge fan of speciality equipment, the vacuum sealer has become a handy tool in the journey to preserve food, especially when not another jar could fit on the shelf. They are commonly sold at big stores these days.

Keeping Warm

The garlic will need consistent heat for anywhere from 30- 60 days. A dehydrator is the best way I’ve found to do this. Depending on how the garlic is wrapped the garlicy odor can be powerful. The first time I did this I used the cheapest dehydrator I could find, wrapped my garlic in plastic wrap, and placed everything outside against the house in a nest of blankets and tarps. It was November and notes of roasted garlic wafted through the neighborhood all month long.

With a couple upgrades, such as the vacuum sealer, no smell is present and the dehydrator can be hidden away in some corner easily indoors.

Temperature and Time

There is some play possible in how you chose to proceed with time and temperature. Temperature may be determined by the limitations of your heating method. Intuitively we know that lower temperatures will take longer and higher temperatures will take a shorter amount of time. Holding the garlic at 135- 140 degree F can take upwards of 60+ days to achieve the desired color development, while 195 degrees F can take maybe 20 days. Sometimes it’s helpful to know there’s more than one route to get there.

A very helpful study done by a group of researchers has noted that garlic held at 160 degrees F for about 40 days scored highest in their sensory evaluation. Check it out here.

Lacto-Fermented Snowflake Ornaments

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Imagine replicating the infinite wonder of a snowflake’s crystal structure in a fermented vegetable.

Process

Follow the technique for “Grated Lacto-Fermented Vegetables of Any Kind.”

After week or more of fermenting, drain the excess brine from the grated veg by squeezing it out as best as you can.

Then arrange the vegetables into basic circle and star-like shapes on a tray and dehydrate according to your preferred method. Keep in mind that you’ll be dehydrating a fermented product so there will be a prevalent scent abound.

A good tip is to pack the shreds dense enough so that can knit and your shape will hold together well. Wreath wire was then used to make the loops to complete the ornaments.

This idea was inspired from Kiriboshi daikon, which are strips of shredded daikon preserved through dehydration and are a great addition to winter soups.

Enjoy!

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Grated Lacto-Fermented Vegetables of Any Kind

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Typically root vegetables are the proper candidates for grating into a lacto-ferment. That is because they are firm and contain enough water to complete the process self-contained. I often refer to these ferments as slaws, which may be another good way to picture them. They are a great companion for garnishes and dressing food up from hot dogs to salads and soups, or even as a simple stand alone side with maybe a kiss of olive oil.

Batches can be made with a single variety or a blend like carrots & beets, and then dressed up with herbs, hot peppers, garlic, or other seasoning combinations that move you. Consider any root vegetable to employ: beets, radishes, turnips, carrots, rutabaga, etc.

Process

Clean and trim the veggies.

Grate with a common kitchen grater. Then mix with salt by adding according to your taste preference.

Pack the mixture with any run-off brine into a jar, crock, or other container. Cover with a lid or cloth and ferment at room temperature.

Be sure to keep the veggies submerged in the brine as needed.

I leave my “slaws” out indefinitely, leaving them on the counter until they eventually get all eaten up by dolloping a heap here and there throughout the winter.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Making A Sauerkraut Tradition (general kraut tutorial)

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Sauerkraut is easily the number one food we eat in the winter. With fall rolling through we make a huge batch annually to use with almost every meal. A long slow simmered sauerkraut is the perfect canvass to marry with anything in the cellar- roots, potatoes, sausages for comfort all winter long- with a big dollop of yogurt.

We make ours in quantities that fit into 5 gallon buckets and if you were interested in doing the same, Home Depot and Lowes sell a white food grade 5 gallon bucket and lid in their paint section. I know food grade plastic is less than ideal but our house in an urban row stays pretty mild. The buckets with snap lids wonderfully safeguard the kraut from getting too gnarly, being a fly residence, and keeping the smell from filling the house. The 5 gallon size also accommodates 50# of fresh green cabbage perfectly. Having an abundant amount makes using it often as easy as remembering it’s there.

For sourcing your cabbage and other assorted veggies, if you’re making a large enough batch you might sell out the farm stand. Give the farm a call ahead of time and ask for a bulk order. If they have it they’ll be happy to accommodate. And then you’ll have no need to buy any of that out of season cabbage from the grocery store this winter.


The creative whim that can go into a sauerkraut from spices, herbs, fruit, and different vegetables is really special. I hope your creativity can be your guide whether you are making a pint, a quart, or more. We tend to make a bulk “traditional” batch, and portion smaller amounts off for making something more eccentric.

Here’s The Sauerkraut Process

Peel off any weird outer leaves from your green cabbage. Cut the cabbage in half to remove the core, then proceed to slice the cabbage into ribbons or whatever shape you’d like.


Mix with salt, let’s say 1 & 1/2- 2tsp per a pound of cabbage, but salt to whatever is your taste preference, there’s no wrong answer. Then massage, pound, stomp, or club your cabbage until its giving up its water.

Now pack the cabbage and its brine into your fermenting vessel of choice, pushing it down so that all the cabbage is in brine. Be careful not to overfill as it will rise and possibly spill over, so give a couple inches of headspace.

Either affix a lid or place a weighted cover and then a cloth draped over to keep the cabbage under the brine and the bugs out. I really like fixing a lid on top. It takes most of the work out it things. The Co2 that results in fermentation will protect the kraut from oxygen. Contact with oxygen carries the risk of mold growth and mushiness. Without a lid the Co2 doesn’t get trapped and maintenance to keep the cabbage submerged in the brine will be necessary. With the right amount of headspace in a bucket with a lid, we’ll just move it to a cool area and not touch it until we start tapping into the larder around Thanksgiving.

In the fall it’s really nice to take advantage of the mild days and cool nights by leaving the kraut outside in a shady area to ferment. We only bring it in once it starts getting too cold, then it move into the cellar or a cool corner of the house where it slowly disappears every day, one scoop at a time.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Ferment Hot Pepper Flakes (& Hot Sauce)

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Fermented hot sauce can be a complicated or quite simple affair, but is indisputably indispensable for bringing your winter stored potatoes, squash, and beans to life. My preferred method is just pureeing hot peppers with a little salt, letting it ferment, and donezo! That works well with fresh peppers but you can also ferment them submerged in a salt brine if they’re dried. Though if you want to take your fermented peppers one step further, try making fermented hot pepper flakes from your fermented hot sauce.


It’s a pretty open door as to how you might want to get creative with making your fermented hot sauce. Add a clove of garlic (or maybe roasted garlic) to your puree, or a hunk of onion, perhaps some garden herbs like oregano. Follow you gardens and markets.


A great little trick is fermented hot pepper flakes. These pepper flakes are a fun addition to a pantry, sneaking a hot and tangy zing to your foods, and super easy to do, while stretching one product into two. Instructions are below, just be sure to do your drying outside if possible or where there’s good ventilation!

Fermented Hot Sauce Method

1. Clean and destem your choice of fresh hot pepper or hot pepper medley. Prepare any other ingrdients: garlic, onion, fruit, herbs, etc.
2. Grind everything together in a food processor or blender. Add a bits of water as necessary to get a fully purred slurry to a nice slushy consistency.
3. Stir in salt for a 3% brine, so that’s about 1-3 tablespoons per a quart of slurry.
4. Ferment with lid on or off according to preference. I like to do the lid on and burp it every few days to keep the weird films from developing on the surface. Without a lid make sure to stir it up every few days.
5. Ferment to your preference, maybe 1 week, maybe a few months. Pack it away in the fridge to store when or cap it at room temperature with a snug twist sealing lid.

Fermented Hot Pepper Flakes

  1. After your hot sauce is done fermenting strain out the solids using a fine mesh strainer.
  2. Bottle up your hot sauce liquid, then dehydrate the solids using your favorite method. If you don’t have a dehydrator you can dry it with a regular old fan or in the oven at the lowest setting. (The oven will require some close monitoring and frequent stirring. A fan might be better done outside.)
    3. Be sure to break up the fermented solids every so often when dehydrating as they will clump together. Also be careful as the drying fumes could be intense!
    4. Grind up the dried solids or break up with your hands and store away!

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Lacto-Fermented Pickles of Any Kind

fermentation, homesteading, Uncategorized, Vegetable Fermentation

The chase is in full swing. Fleeting moments that contain green beans, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, and all the rest are here to either catch or miss. Each jar and crock filled is a thriving moment of anticipation for that winter day when you unlock the memories of summer and you proudly present them to your fellow diners- these are my pickles! In addition to the fantastic name, dilly beans were likely my very first homemade pickle. However, like all recipes, are open to your play and creativity.

For the modest backyard garden that gathers maybe a handful of something every other day or so, setting up a continuous pickling regiment is great. Line up your either mason jars, old peanut butter jars, etc and make them as you go- one little jar at time perhaps. Either way the laid-back nature of lacto-fermented pickles assures you can have the time to make delicious pickles this summer.


Pack as much fresh or dried herb as you can while leaving some room still for the veg. Dill blossoms, green coriander, fresh garlic or scapes, fennel blossom, hot peppers etc. It’s nice to shuve the whole thing, stalks and all, when using fresh herbs.

With whatever remaining leftover room squish in as many cucumbers, beans or whatever veg or veg combo into your jar as you can manage.

I like to eyeball my salt (and maybe return later to taste and adjust) but for the rest a nice middle ground place is 2-3 TBS of salt per a quart. That will hit about the 3.6- 5.2% salinity which is delicious.

Add water to cover everything as best as possible and fasten the lid securely.

Leave it out on counter for 3 days, or until you notice some vigorous bubbling activity. The tell-tale sign will be a bulge in the lid. When that occurs, move to the back of the fridge until you forget and remember again that it’s there some time later in the winter. This quick counter to fridge process ensures the crispest pickle for anyone pickling in some hot weather. The fermentation will crawl along slower but to me sure beats having mush.

Forget about the pickles in the back of fridge for at least a month or two but even better the longer you wait. Also, consider not removing the lid once you get a bulge in it. The reason is, that accumulated Co2 is pushing any oxygen up and away from any plant parts not submerged by the brine thus keeping mold away as if it were submerged. There is also an added bonus of getting some effervescent pickles when you open them!

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Shio Marinaed Carrot Jerky &/or Beef Jerky

fermentation, homesteading, mold, Vegetable Fermentation

Shio Koji

Shio koji is a slurry using koji rice, water, and salt that is left to ferment. The mixture matures with time into a sweet, salty, umami porridge that is perfect for using as a marinade as the enzymes in the koji asssist in tenderizing the ingredients. If you’re not familiar with koji, it is a fungus, usually grown on a grain with certain enzymes that are responsible for the unique flavors in products like miso, sake, and shoyu. I like to use the shio for almost any meat, including all poultry or even different vegetables to add another dimension to my cooking.

Making shio is very easy. I combine dry koji to water at a 1:2 ratio. Add 1 tbs salt per 2 cups of mixture, or to your preference. Pop it all in a mason jar with lid fixed snug, give it a shake, and let it do its thing at room temperature.

If you’d like to get well acquainted with it, taste it every couple of days and note how it changes. After about 2 weeks you should be at a decent spot of maturity to do some marinating. However feel free to go as long as you wish.

Homemade Vinegar

alcohol, homesteading, Vegetable Fermentation

Making vinegar from scratch can be such a sinch, and coupled with its indispensability in the kitchen, makes it a worthwhile endeavor. The process of getting to vinegar is simple:

  1. start with a sugary liquid
  2. let the sugars ferment into alcohol by way of our friendly local wild yeast
  3. then with continued air exposure the alcohol will be eaten up by native acetobacter making it into vinegar. Boom!

An even simpler overview:

  1. crush fruit in your fermentation vessel of choice
  2. leave it be until it tastes like vinegar.
  3. strain the solids. So easy!

What can be made into vinegar?

Damaged fruit and vegetables, including scraps like cores, skins and other odds and ends are excellent candidates for turning into vinegar. High sugar content is helpful, though there’s way to make it out of just about anything.

Step 1: Preparing the mash

Choose what you would like to make vinegar out of and then make a puree out of it. If your ingredients can’t provide enough liquid themselves, it’s okay to add water until it becomes a loose slurry. However keep in mind that our goal is to have as much sugar as we can, as it’ll impact the strength of the final vinegar. If you add water you may want to consider adding some sugar as well. More on that below:

Controlling the final acidity of your homemade vinegar

Being able to control the final acidity of our vinegar will help us ensure a smoother transition with less fungal threats and provide us with a consistent product to rely on for our culinary projects. Generally the vinegar we buy from the grocery stores are 5% acidity.

The percentage of acidity is roughly the same as percent alcohol. That means a 5% alcohol can make about a 5% acidity vinegar. Since the sugars present in our original mixture will ferment into alcohol, the amount of sugar then is directly responsible our final strength of acidity. 

sugar –> alcohol –> vinegar

I use a hydrometer I bought for $20 that measures sugar in liquid through Brix. 1° Brix is about 0.5% alcohol. Additionally my napkin math says that 12g of sugar per a quart of liquid equals 1 brix, so 24 grams equals 1% alcohol, aka 1% vinegar. That estimate can be handy to bulk up the potency of your vinegar, balance a watered-down mixture, or if you want to make vinegar from something that doesn’t really have any sugar to offer, such as celery.

Step 2: Fermenting

Once you have your sugar content in order, now comes the fine art of wild fermentation. In order to employ the native wild yeast you really don’t have to do anything. The common line of thought is to place a cloth over the top of your fermentation vessel, fixed on with a rubber band or string so there is a constant contact with air. However when using ripe fruit or old vegetables I just place a loose fitting lid over the container. The wild yeast are likely well colonized already on your ingredients that all you really need to worry about is the off-gasing from the fermentation not blowing off the lid. When I used to employ the cloth-cover technique my vinegar mixtures often would dry out before they completed.

Either way, there should be some bubbling activity of the wild yeast converting the sugars into alcohol within a few days. To expedite this process simply stir the mash occasionally to incorporate air. Also, keep in mind that the temperature during the fermentation will affect its speed. The warmer the faster.

Once the bubbling subsides, the yeast will have consumed as much sugar as they can and you’ve achieved maximum alcohol. At this point you can strain out the solids. Exposure to air is more important now than it was before. Acetobacter cruise the air looking for alcohol to devour up, and we hope they do. Basically our goal now is to make our alcoholic beverage “go bad.”

Finishing the vinegar

So let’s say you’ve pureed or mashed your fruit, altered the sugar content to your preference, and let it ferment to its heart’s content. Now the bubbling has subsided, which means the wild yeast have consumed all the fermentable sugars available to them and you’re at max levels of alcohol content. When does the vinegar happen?

That part, if doing naturally through wild methods is up to nature. It can sour immediately or may take weeks, or even months to do. And the only way to know is to periodically taste it. Now, there is a trick if you want to push it along. Acetobacter loves to hang out, so if you introduce it, it will find your alcohol party. You can be casual and leave an open container of vinegar next to your soon-to-be vinegar, or you can pour a splash in like a starter culture. Either way, shoot for a raw vinegar to do it with.

One final important note for once you finally have achieved your vinegar and it’s delicious and sour to you. Put a lid on it. Our natural, raw vinegar will actually disperse its acidic acid into the air overtime and eventually become a dull, faintly flavored water. Just toss it in a mason jar with a lid or similar and it’ll last a long long time.

What if weird things begin to grow on it?

The cool thing about vinegar, especially if we make sure to make one with sufficient final acidity is that once it becomes vinegar it’s no longer a hospitable environment for insects and mold. Consider how vinegar is used as a natural cleaner. I have heard of many cases, and then done my own vinegars, that were left in an open container with no cover and allowed to progress as nature willed it. After enough time I pulled off the gnarly top and had wonderful vinegar underneath. Not that I’m recommending this to anyone, but what a fun story to tell.

Most likely if your fermenting mash develops a growth it will be a white film called kahm. Do not despair, kahm is harmless, and is typically a product of lower sugar levels. You can always add more sugar, but when the vinegar finally develops it’s likely the kahm will die and settle into the lees.

Vinegar Processes

Tomato Vinegar

When in season tomatoes are a great candidate for vinegar. I slice and crush my overripe and split heirloom tomatoes. The last time I did this I got a reading of 6 Brix and the tomatoes provided plenty of their own liquid. If I ferment until all bubbling activity has ceased (0 Brix) I’ll get a 3% alcohol tomato “wine.” So letting that continue it’ll be a 3% vinegar. That’s not too bad, and I can assume even if you don’t measure, if you’re using ripe tomatoes you’ll get something similar. If I wanted to shoot for 5% acidity I could just add 48 grams of sugar to my quart of mashed tomatoes to get that additional 2% more.

Celery Vinegar

Puree enough celery for a quart of mash. This will vary but may take roughly one full head, then top it off with water just enough to cover. Stir in 120 grams of sugar until it is dissolved. Then on with the fermentation.

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